International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro
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Woolworth Lunch Counter, February 1, 1960
Woolworth Lunch Counter today
USA TODAY: 10 Best places where black history comes alive.
"The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C., commemorates a key moment in the civil rights movement, when four local college students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth's counter in 1960 when they were refused service because of their race." Larry Bleiberg, USA Today, February 2014
On Feb. 1, 2010, the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the sit-in movement with the grand opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro, just a few miles from the O.Henry Hotel. The centerpiece of the Museum is the historic lunch counter and the original stools where four N.C. A & T University freshmen (Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Joseph McNeil) sat down in nonviolent protest on Feb. 1, 1960, and ignited the sit-in movement. The Museum is housed in the original 1929 F.W. Woolworth retail store.
The Museum’s exhibit space spans two floors and covers 30,000 square feet. A blend of educational exhibits, period artifacts and state-of-the-art technology takes you on a journey through the challenges African Americans faced in the struggle for equal rights. The Museum also highlights key contributors in the civil rights movement and celebrates the impact of the sit-in movement on civil and human rights issues throughout the world.
“The Greensboro sit-ins were a galvanizing moment in the civil rights movement, and we have designed the Museum to create an authentic experience for visitors,” said Amelia Parker, executive director of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. “The original portion of the lunch counter and stools where the four students sat has never been moved from its original footprint, while the remaining section has been restored and returned to its 1960 location. The authentic backsplash, massive cash register, food service equipment, place settings, service utensils, signage and other elements remain to create a realistic 1960 lunch counter experience for Museum visitors.”
Other highlights of the Museum’s exhibits include:
• All Men are Created Equal - an introductory exhibit to help transition visitors from the 21st century to an era when racial injustice and “Jim Crow” laws permeated a segregated society
• A Moment that Changed America - a filmed reenactment of the discussion between the Greensboro Four on the night of Jan. 31, 1960, when the freshmen quartet decided to take action
• The Hall of Shame - an exhibit exposing the violent and turbulent times that marked the transition from slavery to “Jim Crow” to civil rights activism
• In Memoriam to Lives Lost - a wall of remembrance for lives lost in the battle for civil rights
• A Changed World - an exhibit dedicated to the continuing journey and the evolving non-violent civil rights, equality and peace movements throughout the world
In addition to the exhibits, the facility is a “collecting museum” featuring period artifacts that reflect some of the most notable names, places, events and achievements of the civil rights movement. On display will be such items as:
• A bus seat, circa 1950, signed by Rosa Parks
• An authentic wooden slave auction sign
• Green Book, a circa 1950 travel directive to identify “safe houses” and establishments that would service African Americans
• A medical bag used by Dr. George Evans, the first African-American physician allowed to practice medicine in what had been an all-white Greensboro hospital
• The official uniform once worn by Capt. Harvey Alexander, member of the first graduating class from the Tuskegee Air Corps
• A travel typewriter used by anti-segregationalist Ralph McGill, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The building has been meticulously restored and reflects many of the architectural details from the original F.W. Woolworth retail store including the terrazzo floors, intricate moldings and even the signature “Woolworth” gold lettering that graces the exterior of the building. The Museum, which encompasses a total of 43,000 square feet, was designed by the The Freelon Group. The Freelon Group was recently named as the architectural design firm for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will be located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The exhibits were designed by Eisterhold Associates Inc., a nationally-known firm based in Kansas City, Mo., that has designed some of the nation’s most recognized museums and landmarks devoted to civil rights and African-American history. Eisterhold’s work includes the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.; The Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.; The Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala.; and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Mo.
For more information on the International Civil Rights Center & Museum go to their web site.
More African-America Historic Sites in Greensboro
North Carolina A&T University Galleries: North Carolina A&T State University, the largest African-American school in North Carolina, is home to the North Carolina A&T University Galleries (formerly Mattye Reed African Heritage Center and H. Clinton Taylor Art Gallery). The Galleries house one of the largest collections of African culture between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. World art and community ethnic groups are showcased, along with tributes to astronaut Ron McNair and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Also at A&T University is the A&T Four Statue that honors the freshmen who envisioned and carried out the sit-in on Feb. 1, 1960.
African American Atelier: Seeks to promote an awareness, appreciation and sensitivity to the visual arts and culture of African Americans and to work in harmony with other ethnic groups. The Atelier provides a diverse range of exhibits, programs, activities and services for all age groups and ethnic backgrounds. Generally, admission to the gallery and its functions are free to the community and public. The Atelier exhibits only original art and presents six to eight exhibitions each year in its 2,000 square foot modern facility located in the Greensboro Cultural Center.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum: Visit North Carolina’s only official historic site to honor an African American and a woman. The site is the location of the former Palmer Memorial Institute, an African-American preparatory school established by Brown in 1902. Located 10 minutes east of Greensboro. Read more about Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
Greensboro Historical Museum: The sit-ins are commemorated in a striking exhibit with original stools from Woolworth’s. The museum also houses the largest collection of Confederate firearms in the world.
Mendenhall Plantation: An early 19th-century Quaker plantation that includes unique out-buildings, a museum and one of two existing false-bottom wagons used to transport runaway slaves during the time of the Underground Railroad.
Sebastian Medical Museum: The first free-standing African-American Medical Museum in the U.S. commemorates the success of Dr. Sebastian as well as countless others connected with the establishment of L. Richardson Memorial Hospital. The focus of the Sebastian House is to be a historical site where the general public can observe the dreams and visions contributed by African-American doctors and nurses to the Greensboro Community. The entire historical area consists of the Sebastian House and Garden, Grace Lutheran Church and L. Richardson Memorial Hospital. This historical triangle will serve as a live memorial of the success stories and contributions of African-American men and women in the Greensboro Community.
Stroll through the Walkwayof History, sidewalk markers which chronicle six chapters in local African-American history ranging from the first fugitive slave on the Underground Railroad to the first African-American State Supreme Court Justice.
Holgate Library at Bennett College for Women features paintings by Varnette Honeywood. Founded in 1873, Bennett is one of only two historically black colleges in the U.S. exclusively for women.